We all have them. Some are treasured for their selfless impact on lives; some to this day evoke a sense of fear and loathing. Remembering these characters is one thing we all have in common, so when I ask you to think of a memorable teacher, I guarantee a name will quickly come to your mind.
I have had a few memorable teachers, but none can compare to Elizabeth Blaisdell. The mere mention of her name curled the neck hairs of every kid in junior high school. Her disposition was unbending, her classes torture, and her success in pounding science into the heads of every single student passing through her class was legendary. My schedule not only listed Mrs. Blaisdell (aka Lizzie) as my science teacher, but also for home room. I was doomed.
Lizzie (and I call her that with the greatest admiration) worked in the barn before she arrived for school, and it was not unusual to detect the slight aroma of cows and chickens just before noticing her shadow looming over you. She demanded total respect at all times, and was not above humiliation or hanging a wise ass on a coat hook to keep order in her classroom. Delinquents and bullies found themselves on equal ground with homecoming queens and nerds. No one got a free pass. It was all about the challenge of teaching and learning.
My knees were knocking as I took my seat at my desk. There she sat, hairnet covering her steel gray bun, glasses hanging around her neck, and a scowl that would intimidate Mr. T. As the last shivering kid sat down, she told us she would call attendance and as she did, we were to stand and say “here”. Next, we would all take a turn reading from her Bible. Then we would salute the flag. I wondered if I was going to hell, being a Catholic and reading from a Protestant Bible, but in my mind, there was no question that I’d chance it.
When my name was called, I snapped to attention almost knocking over my desk. Lizzie studied me for a moment, and then asked me if I was as stupid as my sister was. I was so horror-struck that I replied without hesitation, “Yes ma’am!”
Mrs. Blaisdell didn’t like the science books we had. She put everything on the blackboard, and introduced us to taking notes. She taught by rote, and when someone said they didn’t understand something, she simply replied, “You will.” She would go over and over a scientific concept until she was satisfied that we understood enough about it to ask questions.
“You can’t question what you know nothing about.”
She was right. Little by little we came to understand, some sooner than others. Those that struggled were destined to spend some extra time with Lizzie, whether they wanted to or not. Any student belittling a slow learner learned quickly what “wrath” meant.
She was a raw, tough old bird that I’m sure would get a chuckle from her legacy, because she also had a good, albeit guarded sense of humor. And I’m sure her softer side would shine through if she knew that the kids she taught so fiercely and selflessly speak or her now not only with tales of her unyielding demands, but with respect and of course, a deep gratitude.